'Reform student funds nightmare'

January 16, 1998

Students seeking financial support for further education face "terrible inequality" and a "nightmare of bureaucratic hurdles" that must be reformed to widen access, the government's adviser on student support said this week.

Graham Lane, chair of the Further Education Student Support Advisory Group, is calling for an end to local authorities' absolute discretion in awarding student grants for further education.

Mr Lane, director of education at the Local Government Association, said that when his advisory group reports in March, it will call for a universal minimum entitlement to student support. Mr Lane said that on average local authorities spend about 0.1 per cent of their education budgets on further education student support, about Pounds 160 million. He will push for a universal minimum of 1 per cent, about Pounds 200 million, which would be at least matched by new money from the Treasury, making the total available Pounds 400 million.

He believes that the Treasury is prepared to transfer money saved through cutting welfare benefits, such as maternity pay and child benefit, from the "affluence-tested" middle classes, and to plough it into further education support.

Local authorities must be made to conform to compulsory national criteria for making awards, he said, losing a large part of their freedom of local discretion.

* A Policy Studies Institute report published today also condemns the system of support for students in further education as "totally inadequate and unfair" and "no better than a lottery". The report, The Funding Lottery, found that only 5 per cent of the three million further education students received discretionary grants in 1994-95, compared with 75 per cent of full-time higher education students who receive mandatory grants.

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